Thursday, 27 June 2013

Future Lovecraft by Nick Mamatas


This collection of shorts and poems on the theme of “fear the future” is not always very Lovecraftian and there are few stand out stories (Richard Mathieson Jr’s is a great story but I’m failing to think of any other stand out stories). On the whole it is interesting and varied but does suffer, like many disparate collections on a theme, a fair amount of unevenness.

Overall – one for fans of SF/Horror crossover and Lovecraft

The brides of Rollrock island Margo Lanegan


Misskaella is an ugly child, something of a throwback according to the people of the island, when she reaches puberty and discovers that she has power of the local seal colony and can make seal-wives she uses this power to have vengeance for a childhood of slights. This is a multi-narrator tale told with a very deft touch by the author so that even though it is a collection of narratives it comes together and builds a brilliant whole. Lanegan explores male-female relationships via the plot device of selkies, needless to say men don’t come across so well. This is not a love tale, it is sad and spiteful and full of magic.

Overall - This is a great fantasy book and Misskaella’s story is very engaging.

Mechanique: A tale of the circus Tresaulti Genevieve Valentine


Astounding feats of ACROBATICS
The World has ever SEEN

Our story opens with a second person introduction of you visiting the circus and continues with several changes of POV and tense which could be jarring but is very much at the service of the story and the beautifully drawn world building. This is an achingly good story, told with an expert voice. We follow several characters and grow with them to live and love the circus which is like a large dysfunctional family. This is a steampunkesque world, set post collapse, where the circus travels the country but tries never to revisit places, or at least not within living memory. As we progress with the circus we are embroiled in the petty politics of the performers and gradually learn more about the world, getting back stories of the performers. I read this is in one sitting, picking it up in the morning and not able to put it down until it was finished, and what a read it was! Highly recommended.

Some parts of the past cannot be reclaimed, he knows. Better not to raise ghosts.

Overall – Beautiful, painful, joyous, adventurous tapestry to be savoured and devoured and thrust into the hands of all those who share your reading tastes…

A room of one’s own Virginia Woolf


A famous feminist polemic based on talks and essays that Woolf created in answer to doing something on women in fiction. Why is there no female equivalent of Shakespeare? She posits the belief that until women have their own money and a room that they can retreat to without having to look after little ones then women were not able to find the time to write. Aphra Behn, George Elliott, the Brontes, Jane Austin and many many more female authors are discussed, some in detail, althouhgh this is a fairly short piece. This is an intelligent and well-argued theory and well worth reading. It was first published in 1928 and it is both interesting and sobering to see how far we have come since women got the vote and were legally allowed to have their own money. It is also galling to see how little we’ve moved on some things, such as the depiction of women in books.

Overall – very important and an easy and enjoyable read

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Updated Clarion wordcount - so far 1790 words but now complicated by the fact I have to rework the story that's been accepted for the anthology (details on that soon)

Didn't get editor's choice in the 1000 words but my story will be published this week on Thursday :-)

Finally finished Darkmans by Nicola Barker and have moved on to Among Others by Jo Walton

June SF&F Female writers is almost over, next month I'll be sticking with female writers but will open it out to the women on the TBR pile some of which is non-fiction.

Busy bookish week this week -

Tonight - meeting at the Watershed about the "Kraken Rises" event at BFL on 19/10/13
Wednesday - Eugene Byrne & George Ferguson talk about Unbuilt Bristol
Thursday - Jo Hall launches The art of forgetting!/events/379378108830718/

and there is a Vala meeting

Friday - Yardstick event!/events/547749258597031/

Friday, 21 June 2013

Been out in Finland this week in the run up to the longest day. No book related news. Tomorrow is NFFD which I'm going to miss all the festivities as I'll be in a field in Wales.

Excited that 2 more of my stories have been accepted, news as to where you can see them will follow once I'm allowed to publicise although have had a rain of rejections recently too. Ah well, so it goes, one of my rejections went on to be accepted elsewhere though.

I'll be starting the write-a-thon on Sunday but am already behind really as I was supposed to do my outline already. I'll probably go above and beyond my word count on Sunday as I'll also work on the outline. I'll be using a tried and tested technique (that Steinbeck, one of my literary heroes, used) which is to write a few words unrelated to my main writing task. I'm planning on doing that here.

still time to drop by and sponsor me -anything you can give will help. If you sponsor me $10 I'll let you have a copy of the eventual book (that's like buying a book for about £6.50)

I was really happy to see that the books from both Wordsworth and Penguin have arrived so we now have our stock of prizes for the BFL event I'm running on October 19th. More details of that in the coming weeks, it's a really exciting event with all sorts of great people involved.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman



 The event

I went to see Neil Gaiman talk about his new book The ocean at the end of the lane so this is both a review of the evnt and a review of the book. Toppings, who organised the event, got a coup as the book isn’t officially on sale until the 18th. 1000 people gathered together to greet the author with thunderous applause once we’d all queued to a) get into the venue and b) buy our copies of the book (queuing was a feature of the evening). Neil was interviewed, did two readings and fielded about 20 questions from the audience and then people queued, some more than 3 hours, to get the book signed, which Neil did graciously and with good humour. He managed to compliment me on my t-shirt, which was nice. Since we queued for around 2 hours I got a good head start on reading the book, surprisingly few people were reading it in the queue though. I was over half way through by the time I got to the head of the queue. What did I learn? That novel length is 40,000 words (thanks to an audience prompt), that lot of companies went bust when Neil started working with them, that things are moving up the chain of command with the adaption of American gods (still my favourite Gaiman) and that Neil Gaiman has a loyal, vocal, dedicated fan base. It’s a very different story to when I went to a signing of Anansi boys in Bath and there were perhaps 20 people in the bookshop!

 The Book

Nobody looks like they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody….. And as for grown-ups…..I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one in the whole wide world….. Except for Granny of course


We are in familiar territory with the book, there are fates (maiden, mother, crone) type characters (although not outright called so), cats (that move the plot along), children struggling with adult themes and a bit of horror. Gaiman said that this started as a short story, that grew into a novellete, that grew into a novella, that grew into a novel at 56,000 words. It is peculiarly of the author, no-one quite like him although there are shades of Chesterton there. It has the usual Gaimanesque themes of the mythic in ordinary objects, the ocean of the title and the Hempstock's, yet this time it is a glimpse of Neil’s private mythology as the book has an autobiographical genesis. The story is suitably horrific, told as reminiscence and therefore through the eyes of a child, yet we adults can interpret things the child narrator doesn’t understand. The plot (no spoilers here – go get your own copy, you won’t regret it) romps along and before you know it you have reached the end of the book closing the last page with a satisfied sigh.


Overall – Great for fans new or old, one of his better novels, recommended.

Had great fun at the Neil Gaiman event last night. Spent so long in the signing queue that I'd half finished the book by the time he signed it. Finished it this morning. Review to follow soon.

Continuing the geekness am off to see Much Ado about nothing, the Joss Wheedon version, tonight. Will blog about that Monday.

Off to Finland next week so plenty of reading time in airports etc. so going to finally tackle Darkmans. Before that though, continuing the June female SF&F read on LT I'm going to read the highly acclaimed Mechanique, a tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine

Friday, 14 June 2013

Tonight is Neil Gaiman at Bath Forum via Toppings. I've been deliberately not trying to find out much about The Ocean at the End of the Lane due to this event. Bit of a coup for Toppings as this is the first event Neil is doing for the book I think.

Plans are coming together for an exciting project on the 19th as part of the Bristol Festival of Literature more details of that in July.

Not only have I joined the Write-a-Thon I have somehow ended up being a team leader. I'm still looking for sponsorship here:

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The bookman trilogy - the bookman, camera obscura & the great game By Lavie Tidhar


I read these one after the other and will therefore review as one, looks like they’ve been brought out as all 3 in one book now too. It’s an uneven series that starts with a fun first book, improves in the second book but the third is a little lacklustre. Though on the whole a very enjoyable series. In an alternative history, one where Amerigo Vespucci (whose name gave rise to Vespuccia in the alt.reality of the book) finds an island of humanoid lizards who he brings back from Caliban’s island who take over the British monarchy and forge the British Empire. Throw into the mix many many nods to Victorian (and earlier) fiction with characters drawn from diverse sources – Stoker, Kipling, Conan Doyle etc. with a variety of mechanical beings from various sources. An assassin that kills people with books and more than a whiff of steampunk. It’s eclectic which sometimes works in its favour and sometimes works against the story. Set mainly in the alternative Victorian London, a Paris where there has been a Quiet Revolution and Vespuccia where the native Americans still “rule” the adventurous story just zips along. The main character in the first book is a bit of a cipher and a little too passive for my tastes and the third book follows a few characters some of whom work well, others not so well but the stand out book is the second mainly because of the great main character.

Overall – Adventurous steampunk tales, a lot of fun

Monday, 10 June 2013

So overcome by a foolish optimism I have joined the Clarion Write-a-thon

Go For It Badge

and immediately faced the FEAR (see Gareth Powell's posts on the FEAR here:

I mean Cory Doctorow and Cat Rambo are writers in the Write-a-thon! What was I thinking? Well let me tell you. I was thinking that I've been doodling so far, although it's been very nice to be on 1000 words (when I see my story there on the 27th I'll be very proud) but I have yet to set myself a writing target, or write consistently every day. So, that's why I jumped in. My aim is to get into the habit of writing 500 words a day and thus jump start a novel. I expect as it's my first attempt it'll be awful to so-so and need a huge amount of work. But it seems that all the advice, that all them published author types give you, says write. Just write. Get your words down. Finish what you write. I guess I'll learn a lot in the process of writing so that eventually my stuff may get beyond so-so. JFDI as we say in the day job Just F*cking Do It.

So my next step is to not hide the fact that I'm leaping into trying to write a book and it's quite possible that I'll fail. That step is to ask you, dear reader, to cough up some CASH in return for me knuckling down to it. It's for a good cause (if you like reading!) and knowing that you're rooting for me will give me the kick up the bottom I definitely need.

On a similar note I aim to do NaNoWriMo in November too

Now expecting the inevitable "what's it about?" questions, which at this stage I have no idea how to answer...

Friday, 7 June 2013

So I just re-read my review of The Shining Girls and realised that although I rated it Good I spent almost the whole review saying what I didn't like about it! Let me remedy that... What I did like - Kirby was a great protagonist and her interactions with Dan were great. I loved what Beukes did with the idea of trophies. The structure of the book was genius, the pacing was very good and the writing is very very good.

Really enjoying the 1000 words so far, looking forward to seeing which 3 get Editor's choice.

I have tickets to see Adam Johnson at the fantastic Mr B's but looks like someone else will benefit from mine as I have to go to Finland with work :-( That's the second event I'm missing because of last minute travel! First Joe Hill, gutted I missed that event, now Adam Johnson. Not going to let anything stop me going to the Neil Gaiman event in Bath though!

Missed a couple of Friday Flash so will attempt to remedy that today if the workload allows...

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Waterstones in Bristol are running a series of intriguing events and the latest Crime Night coming up at 7pm on June 18th with Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites (half of husband-and-wife team Tania Carver) looks really good. The guys at Waterstones tell me that Mark is a stand-up comedian in his spare time, and he and Martyn are an excellent double act. It should make for a really entertaining evening. Tickets £5, £3 to Waterstones cardholders.


The next day (Wednesday June 19th) they have two events off-site. The first is with children's author Melvin Burgess in the morning. This is a school event, so no public availability, but if anyone wants a signed copy of any of his books Waterstones can take requests and dedications.


That evening Charlie Higson will be at Bristol Grammar School. This is a public event. Tickets are only available through the school, not through Waterstones although they will be there on the night selling books, and are once again able to take dedications and requests if you can't make it. Detials of the event can be found here:

The shining girls By Lauren Beukes

Harper is down on his luck in Depression era Chicago when he finds a method of travelling through time. He then uses this to become a serial killer. The list of his victims is on the back of the book. One of them is fighting back. This is a great premise which the book mostly lives up to. I really enjoyed it but wasn’t totally satisfied at the end hence the 4 stars instead of 5. Many books are like icebergs where you understand that there is a ton of research and character & background development behind what’s on the page. This book, I feel, fails a little on making the iceberg work for the story. The characters, especially of the shining girls themselves, are not explored satisfactorily. We never really get the serial killer’s motivation, except you know he’s a serial killer, he kills people, that’s all you need to know. The time travelling macguffin isn’t really explained either, which in itself is OK and I quite liked that Beukes didn’t get drawn in to over-explaining things but since you, the reader, don’t know the rules, then there’s a sneaking suspicion that possibly anything could happen, although there is enough for you to see the shape of it. There is an off-hand reference to free will in the context of what the heroine is studying and there is a call back later in the book on that but this is an underdeveloped theme. The first half of the book had me turning the pages and fully immersed, the second not so much. Beukes has grown as a writer since Zoo City I believe and this is a much tighter book and better written however I feel like I enjoyed Zoo City more, guess I’m just not that into serial killers.


Overall - It never lost my interest and left me wanting more, would definitely recommend it

Short Interview with Lauren Beukes about the book here:

The orphan master’s son Adam Johnson
What everybody gets wrong about ghosts is the notion that they're dead. In my experience, ghosts are made up only of the living, people you know are out there but are forever out of range
This is a book that takes a fictional look at life in North Korea. The fictional in that sentence is the important word. At heart this is a book about the dangers of when story becomes all consuming.
Where we are from, he said, stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he'd be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change
We follow the Orphan Master’s son, Pak Jun Do, from his life in the orphanage to a succession of roles working for the regime. Along the way Johnson’s deft weaving in of horrific background facts, the orphans gaffing bodies from the water of famine victims, disappearances, the intimately dystopian feeling of the relationships Jun Do has with people, the ubiquitous presence of the Dear Leader and the “Eternal President” the Great Leader (making North Korea a necrocrasy) is drawn so well at the beginning that when you see outsiders from the point of view of the Koreans they seem bizarre and unreal. This is most definitely a story and not reportage which is something that some reviewers seem to have missed? What it does supremely well is to get you inside the head of someone living in a dystopian present in such a way that the story is utterly believable, whilst at the same time you understand it shouldn’t be, that in North Korea stories are lies.
Overall – It blew me away, a definite 5 star read
Exhibitionism Toby Litt
This is a collection of Litt’s short fiction, about half of which are on the theme of sex. As with all short collections, there is an unevenness with some stories falling flat. However there are some real gems here. The man who’s dream girls start coming to life in Dreamgirls, the alphabed of sex which explores sex from A to Z, My cold war ( a non-sex story) that explores post-communist Berlin and a mysterious set of photographs. I bought this in London when there for work and inadvertently left my book at home and it kept me entertained on the train journey homw.
Overall – Fans of Litt will enjoy this, for people who haven’t tried him yet this may be a nice introduction

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The songlines by Bruce Chatwin

Chatwin is writing a book about Nomads but has reached a point where it’s just not flowing properly but he travels to Australia to find out more about the Aborigine Songlines and the book he was writing changes. Part travelogue, part meditation on nomadism, part philosophy this is a hard book to categorise. Chatwin has a really engaging writing style and he meets a collection of interesting characters.


Overall - It didn’t blow me away as much as his [in Patagonia] but still a really good read.


Unbuilt city by Eugene Byrne
 photo Unbuilt-Bristol1-1.jpg



Eugene Byrne is a local author whose fiction books are well worth checking out (Thigmoo & Things unborn and the book he co-wrote with Kim Newman Back in the USSA) he’s also a journalist and a historian who has written a few GN about Darwin and Bristol. In this, his latest book, he has excelled by creating one of the best guides to the “may have been” there is out there. The built environment in Bristol has a long history and Byrne explores the period between 1750-2050 to find the buildings, monuments and other structures that have been proposed for Bristol that didn’t get built. From the amazing bridge on the cover – imagine if that had been built! To statues that failed to be placed on the fountains outside the council offices to a Victorian plan to place the main railway station in the heart of Bristol (instead we have two on the outskirts). Some of these stories are surprising, some are quirky, others are just plain odd and the book is both informative and entertaining. I highly recommend this book regardless of whether you’re familiar with Bristol or not as it shows that the built environment is shaped just as much by what isn’t built as it is by what is and includes some really interesting history.


Overall – Great resource and very entertaining history

Monday, 3 June 2013

Very happy that my short White noise/Black silence has been chosen by 1000 words in their flash fiction competition here there will be a story printed every day (Monday-Friday) throught June, mine will be on the 27th

Sad to have missed Joe Hill at Waterstones because of a work trip to Paris. Especially since work stuffed up my hotel booking and I spent all night sorting out an alternative hotel. I did eat at a nice Vietnamese restaurant though, so not all bad.

Excited that this month I have tickets to see both Neil Gaiman and Adam Johnson (author of The Orphan Master's son)

Wednesday is Word of Mouth and this month is poetry related!/events/492094730863634/

Over on LT on the 2013 challenge we decided after seeing that women are poorly served by reviewers, especially in SF&F, that we would dedicate a month to reading women writers. That's June.

It's sad that sexism is still so rife. I've previously written that it's a bit strange that when things from the 60's & 70's are rebooted (Dr Who, Star Trek immediately spring to mind) that the inherent sexism is also brought wholesale. Chuck Wendig in his own inimitable way discusses it the Dr Who thing here:

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